By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, Dec 20 (Reuters) - The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the U.S. spy chief to step up efforts to counter sexual harassment in national security agencies after scores of women complained of inadequate protections, according to a letter by senators.
The letter dated Dec. 19 and seen by Reuters, was sent by Democratic panel members Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and Republican Susan Collins from the full committee, appealing to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to "ensure that women can work free from fear and can be confident that their gender will not affect their opportunities."
They asked Coats to review a Nov. 28 open letter to national security officials by a group calling itself "#metoonatsec". (http://tmsnrt.rs/2B9bgS1)
Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told Reuters: "Under DNI Coats' leadership the intelligence community unequivocally supports all efforts to tackle discrimination and harassment issues head-on."
Representatives of the Defense Department and the State Department did not respond to requests for comment.
The November letter signed by 223 women working in national security and related jobs said: "We, too, are survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse or know others who are."
They said sexual harassment and abuse are "not just a problem in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, newsrooms or Congress" and that women hold only 30 percent or less of the senior national security jobs in most agencies.
While the agencies all have policies in place against sexual harassment, the women said, these are "weak, under enforced and can favor perpetrators."
Two days after the #metoonatsec group posted its letter, Coats circulated a message to all U.S. intelligence agencies, saying he and his principal deputy, Sue Gordon, were serious about curbing sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by John Walcott and Grant McCool)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.